Before the free agency season began, many fans already had a shopping list of positions the Islanders needed to target. A top line left winger for John Tavares a, top 4 defenceman and a starting goalie. The starting goalie was a given, but with the rest of the team, I wrote and responded on twitter by asking this question: Where are you putting them? There clearly wasn’t enough room unless the Islanders were going to make a trade. Sure enough, Jaroslav Halak, Chad Johnson took care of the goalie tandems. Then the Islanders signed Kulemin, Grabovski and Conacher and all of a sudden, the Islanders are chock full of players and I was chomping at the bit proclaiming a trade was inevitable. My excitement overcame any rationale I had. I originally blamed myself, but then trades used to be a natural thing when former Islanders General Manager Mike Milbury was at the helm. For whatever reason, trading the captain of the Islanders or a promising young player (or both) for immediate help now was always a norm.
So the Islanders fans got their goalies, they’ve accepted Brock Nelson as probable left winger for Tavares, especially with the signings of the fore mentioned players adding scoring threats to all three lines, but there is still that elusive top 4 defenceman that has not happened. But current Islanders General manager Garth Snow did make one under the radar signing. TJ Brennan, last year’s AHL defenseman of the year was signed the day free agency opened. His numbers on offense could certainly help a team that is need of a defenceman of his quality and if you look at his NHL numbers, 11points in 40 NHL games, all before his fantastic 72 point season in the AHL last year, he could replace the now departed Andrew MacDonald’s 24 points, with proper minutes.
From my guess, the biggest concern for most fans is Lubomir Visnovsky. He’s just about one receiving hit away from a career ending concussion and fans are worried that there will not be enough talent on this team to make any kind of run. I may disagree with that assessment. Here’s why:
Yet, like a lot of typical mainstream talk about the Islanders, a closer look would suggest that the concerns about the Islanders’ D is massively overblown. Take a look at how many shots the Islanders allowed. In Close situations (Game within 1 goal through the first two periods or tied in the third period) at 5v5, the Islanders were 18th in shots allowed per 60. Basically middle of the pack. This is despite the team whose 3rd most used D Man all year was Andrew Macdonald (who naturally allowed some of the most shots/60 of any player on the team) and that Lubomir Visnovsky, one of our best d-men was out over half of the year.
During the lockout in fact, the Isles were SIXTH in shots against per 60 in 5v5 close situations. SIXTH!
To further his point, if you look closely at each of the starting players for this year, their Corsi numbers (goals + saves + missed shots + blocks) through 60 minutes at 5v5, every one was decent but one. (For the Non stats fan, anything over 0 is a good thing)
Visnovsky: 11.6 Games played: 24
de Haan: 5.05 Games played: 51
Hamonic: .49 Games played: 69 **His linemate was Andrew Macdonald for most of the year & he was wretched.
Donovan: 9.07 Games played: 52
Hickey: 2.02 Games played: 82
Carkner: -1.18 Games played: 53
Strait: -12.89 Games played: 47
So to further Garik’s point, you minimize Strait and Carkner, all of them need to stay HEALTHY to go along with a completely revamped goalie tandem, a scoring touch like Brennan and you have yourselves a better overall defensive system. When you also look at this defense you know there is chemistry when de Haan and Hamonic are paired together as well as Hickey and Visnovsky. Tough to break up a top 4 when they’ve shown success statistically. Take into account as well that the former goalie trio had a combined save percentage of .910 at 5v5, good for 28th in the League. Nothing the defense can do if your goalies can’t stop the puck, hence the revamp.
Now as I was developing my previous Bridge Report article, it occurred to me that the Islanders really don’t need to make a trade now or at the start of the season. Why? One word: Depth.As far as forwards are concerned, I could see Colin McDonald & Corey Conacher not make this team and a similar fate could be had for Brian Strait on defense if Griffin Rinehart earns his way on the team. If Snow can trade Bouchard & Regin for a 4th rounder, I’m pretty sure some team looking for depth could do the same deal. If not, I believe all three could be moved to Bridgeport and the Sound Tigers could demote three to their ECHL team, the Stockton Thunder. So what happens to the offense if there are injuries? Well on the fourth line look for Sundstrom, Persson or Halmo to be called and if you need a top nine, you always have Conacher, Skille, Zolniercyk (assuming they clears waivers first), and Strome.
But what about that elusive top 4 defenceman if Visnovsky or any of the others go down with an injury? That is where I believe Rinehart will take the spot. Like Nelson on the top line, Rinehart should be given the shot to fill in while the injured mend and Brennan will be given a bigger role so that he can prove he is NHL ready. If the injuries occur early, then it may be time to pull off a move, but the Islanders also have players in Bridgeport like Ness, Czuczman, & Mayfield who could come in and play a third pair role and not be out of place. If there happens to be a plague on defense, then yes trades may have to occur, but the longer that the defense can stay HEALTHY, the better the younger players will be once they come up.
I know many would love to trade Josh Bailey or a Michael Grabner and whatever NHL 14 package they can come up with for that Top 4 d-man, but the Isles don’t have to make a move now or at the start of the season. Do I still think the Islanders will make a trade? Yes. Will it be now? Only if Garth wants to make a huge splash. Milbury would’ve done it already and it didn’t get him or the Islanders very far. For the first time in a long time, players are fighting for their jobs and the ones who don’t make it, will be replaced from within the system. It’s something Isles fans are not accustomed to, but they may have to get used to it and they’ll eventually grow to love that idea.
Many want to see the Islanders go beyond the first round of the playoffs, as do I, which could be another reason for the immediate trade of a veteran presence. They want to see the Islanders go as far as they can in the last year of the Coliseum and that’s understandable. I would like to add that trades like those usually don’t occur until after Christmas or around the trade deadline when you know where your team is at in the standings and you look to see how you can address any needs. Many may be thinking of making that “Jeff Carter,” “Ray Bourque,” or everyone’s favorite “Butch Goring” trade in the middle of July. It may still happen early, but not likely. Snow may have just pulled the biggest “Matt Moulson” signing in TJ Brennan and it’s been said if you want a top 4 or 2 defenseman, you have to draft him. Well, the Islanders did draft him, it’s time to see if Rinehart is ready. Time is on the Islanders side, which is a rarity in itself these days.